General gameplay: avoiding grinding

When creating the ideas you’ll see below, I first had in mind to think of a gameplay that does not revolve solely around “asteroid mining” to obtain improvements. I’m not against farming, I’d even say I enjoy time to time putting my brain on the side while still being useful in some way … but not if it becomes grinding, not if it’s unavoidable and a constant pain in the ass to get anywhere.

On the Permadeath Pirate think tank post, @JB47394 invited me to work and present a design on his problem of a pre-emptive nerf on “pirates”, so that they won’t ruin the game from the start, especially those “farmers”. Or something that would put piracy as a viable option, but not so good that everyone would go into it.

So I thought to myself: what if “piracy” was actually just another part of a global gameplay system? And more precisely, what if the loot and rewards were seen from another angle?

But before, let me present the ship roles I came up with.

Business & Operation (B&O) ships
(Lore) They are the most common type of ships found around many settlements and planets. Not as fragile as civilian ships, they are designed to endure the rigors of deep space travels and, to some extent, survive against hostile encounters. However, no weapons are mounted on their frame and their shield is mediocre at best. Apart from safe locations like their faction’s heart system, convoys of B&O are well guarded.
They are used in anything that revolves around industry, trading and operations such as asteroid fields mining or local excavations.

(Specifications) Being hybrids between civilian and military needs, the ships excels at utilitarian uses. All ship templates provide with basic drills and storage compartment, but the most advanced templates propose improvements in almost all parts of the ships and tradeoffs for a better specialization.

(Gameplay) As stated before, the main missions of crews piloting the B&O ships are trading, mining exploitation and transport. This may seem dull, but their presence are invaluable as the least storage-optimized ship can still pack massive amount of cargo. Plus, they can bring the much needed materials and goods to any designated vital area.
In safe or low-danger zones, they may operate without any support or protection, but the more profitable mines and trade routes go through dangerous territories.

Engineering ships
(Lore) Because of their complexity both in conception and in their learning curve by the crew, they’re not as widespread as their usage would lead to think. An offspring of military research, engineering ships find a broad usage even in civilian needs. From ship’s framework repairs to shield fluctuation mending and deep space construction overseeing, the engineering crew rarely stay idle for even a short time.

(Specifications) The advanced tools sprouting from the frame downgrades the defense system compared to military class, but their mending tools can be used offensively at short distance with serious, and sometimes lethal, damage. The internal ship’s computer are also able to assist the engineer’s crew with modifying blueprints for planetary or deep space infrastructure, so that they suit best the current terrain disposition. As always, ship templates can provide a variety of functionalities as well as tradeoffs for a better specialization.

(Gameplay) While not equipped with conventional weaponry, the engineering ship provides ample support for his team-mates during fights. It can also pull a few tricks when dueling for its life and survive, contrary to the B&O ships. It is also the masterpiece when building a new deep space harvester, advanced excavation site, or any structure beyond the regular influence zone of its faction.

Explorer ships
(Lore) As humanity advanced deeper in space, great migrations occurred in every direction from Earth. The furthest colonies had the most chaotic beginnings, cumulated with increased difficulty to obtain Earth’s communications. At some point, all communications were lost but with the closest colonies, and the harsh survival conditions didn’t put History records tracking or maintaining on the priority list.
When things settled down, it was found that many archives were lost, including Earth’s location. No more signals were received and without coordinates, it was impossible to send messages. Many other colonies that seemed thriving were not responding anymore. People from all backgrounds started investigating the present and the past, seeking answers throughout the stars.

(Specifications) What the exploring ship lacks in defense, weaponry or transport, it makes up in speed and scanning, rivaling with the best military equipment. Even pirates, known for their reckless afterburners, can’t catch up. Equipped with the necessary items for scavenging and excavations, some ship templates focus on improving those tolls while others go for better speed or scanners.

(Gameplay) Posing no threat and of no economic importance, they are often left alone when identified, allowing them to cross borders even with opposite faction on open war. Therefore, this type of ship is sometimes used for discreet diplomacy or moderate spying, as they can’t stay long in a place least they arouse suspicions.

Military ship
(Lore) Ever present in almost any human society since the dawn of humanity, military assets are always evolving. Since the initial space conquest from Earth, spaceships took a dominant lead on the war scene from the beginning. Research and human ingenuity contributed to create a vast arsenal of weaponry, ranging from the classical ballistic weapons to the most exotic energy beam machinery.
Automation and electronics allow to dramatically reduce the need of human operators, but the formation of a military pilot still requires more mathematics training, physical exercises and acute reflexes than any other space pilot.

(Specifications) The military ships are certainly those presenting the broadest variety of ships, starting from small one-manned ships to huge battlecruiser. However, ship templates are always restricted by the original ship’s design, therefore exotic weapons drawing a lot of energy are not seen on small ships … yet.

(Gameplay) Certainly the most classical type of ships, most players will go for this type of ship as it is a good value of fun. But apart from their good defense and wide range of weaponry, military ships do not bring any utility nor support. They can participate in almost all the mission events per se, but having only military ships in your group will not get you anywhere near the mission’s goal.

Special Operations ship
(Lore) Another offspring of the military research, the SpecOps ships are the dark brothers of the engineering ships. Full details are known to only the highest important persons in most governments, they are essential in gathering information and creating havoc in enemy lines through vicious means. Many of the SpecOps ships use state-of-the-art weaponry and defense mechanism, relying mostly on stealth and the element of surprise rather than brute force and solid framework.
Each colony followed their own path to create the technologies behind the SpecsOps ships, sometimes with the help of some uncovered artifact on an old abandoned Earth colony.

(Specifications) Their weapons might not be the deadliest or with the longest range, but their damage output combined with a well-laid ambush can still be devastating. Exotic camouflage and bait systems take most of the hull’s space, therefore most ship template propose reasonable speed machinery instead of reinforced framework.

(Gameplay) They take a different “role” than classic military because of their cloaking system and low defense value. They should be easily taken down with only a few hits, so the preferred tactic is either ambush or hit-and-run. Having lower-range, but much more precise scan readings than Explorer ships, they also excel at scouting and identifying threats and enemy’s defenses.

Now, into the detailed explanations. Why so many roles? Because it brings more cooperation between players and more diversity than only combat-oriented ships. How does the cooperative gameplay work? Participating in missions will earn you class points, and you’ll earn more of these as well as some resources (depending on the type of mission) if it’s a success. The riskier the mission and the more people participate, the greater the reward is.

Let’s give an example of what a mission looks like.

An asteroid field rich in Uranium has been spotted in the outer layer of a system, but alas it is also not very far from a pirate base. Having one or more B&O, if possible specialized in drilling, is crucial. Of course, a few military ships as well. Bringing an engineer ship to build a harvester for faster mining and for its support is a good option. One or two scouting ships such as SpecOps or Explorer ships to quickly determine incoming waves is also advised. The goal is to harvest at least 75% of the asteroid field and leave the pirate area.

For this scripted hard mission, between a dozen and twenty players may be involved. Having too much military and not enough drilling ships may get you in trouble as the waves increase in strength.
Building a harvester will speed you up good, but you should either bring the materiel with you or mine it from the asteroid field.
Having no enough scouts means no diversion nor information on incoming waves.

Once the mission is completed, everyone gets rewards based on their ship class.
B&O gets more class points the more they have drilled, explorers for locating enemies (half for SpecOps as they also gain points for combat participation), engineers for repairs and infrastructure completed, militaries for combat points (penalties if team mates other than scouts / militaries got injured?). The class points are capped of course to a limit.
For a successful mission, everyone gets a piece of the pie: Uranium, as it is needed in most advanced ship’s template. This is delivered as soon as the convoy enters a safe location (or before?).

Another mission example that brings Explorer ships into the front scene.

A tip from a roaming trade convoy mentioned readings off-scale for a brief moment coming from a nearby system. Alas, it was too brief for them to locate it and didn’t want to stop. Other bad news, the other factions also got the tip and will probably fight to get the precious artefact.
Explorer ships will be the only ones here able to precisely locate the artefact, and still they will have to scan near the surface of all the eligible planets of the system. Once it is located, the excavation can begin. The more explorer ships of a same faction unite, the quicker. But it can be even more quickened with an adequate infrastructure, provided by the engineering ship. Materials have to be gathered from nearby asteroid fields by B&O ships. Both the site and the B&O convoys are to be protected from the enemy militaries and roaming SpecOps.

If the infrastructure is captured, the current archeologist are kicked off and there’s a time for the interface computers to be converted to the new faction. External pirates may appear as yet another potential threat.
The goal would be to get as much artefacts from the excavation as possible. They can be stocked at the excavation, or regularly transported to a safer location.

This mission is totally unscripted, except for the appearance of the tip. Or maybe, the tip is given by the first wandering human explorer; this could also be an option for more “organic” interactions. In which case either the “artefacts” spawns are scripted or not renewed once fully recovered.

Once enough class points are earned, you can unlock different ship templates that will bring you more choice. Should you improve your drilling machines or your storage capacity? Obtain a better cloaking device or get a mine dispenser? In any case, building the template will require that you obtain building materials: artefacts, mined resources or both.
Since you can get the materials through missions, you don’t need to focus on a “mining ship” which you used during ten hours, with multiple go and return, to finally afford yourself the lowest pew-pew available. You can directly go with your pew-pew and receive what you need.

The class points are tied to the ship, but exchangeable to a certain degree. If you’ve got already the resources you need, you might “refuse” the resource or artefact rewards for more class points. Or on the contrary, you may give up on your class points for some more materials. This exchange does not interfere with the reward pool. What that means: if a 100 of artefacts were excavated, distributed among 5 people, that makes 20 artefacts. If I give up my class points, the others will still gain the same number, but I’ll get, say 5 more. If I refuse the artefacts for more class points, then the others will get my share.
Also, there are “prestige” points. They are obtained when you give up both resources and class points as an exchange. They are used to get different skins for your ship and are account bound (those points are more of an extra, could be used in a different way).

So in all this nice story, what becomes of piracy? How do you steal cargos?

This is the trick. There is no piracy, stricu sensu. The closest you can come to this are the SpecOps ships, specifically designed for that, or any military ship that can go for disruption mission. However, anyone can plunder a “knocked-out” ship.
When fighting against a human controlled ship and lowering first his shield then his hull’s defense to zero, the ship is “knocked-out” for a small period of time. During this period, you may extract from him whatever you want. If it was a B&0 ship with artefacts, then grab as much as your storage capacity can. You may of course want then to blow the ship, but the knocked-out ship gets a bonus defense until his systems are back online.

As the enemy’s ship gets back on his propellers, his shield and physical defense are down between a third and a half. He may either want to back into the fray, or get to his base on an “emergency” mode.
In any case, the enemy ship does get another “knock-out” session. If he went back to combat, then his loss if he gets destroyed. But if his “destruction” happens during the “knock-out” period or when fleeing in “emergency” mode, then the attacker gets a penalty on his class points (and perhaps his prestige also?). Also, the “destruction” leaves little to no cargo.

Being destroyed should not be that harsh. You’ll find yourself back to base with a pitiful ship in bad need of repairs. These can be done for a price: materials and artefacts, the type depending on the template and the quantity depending on the total damage suffered.
If you’re missing resources, you have access to your lower rank ships to help you back on your feet.
However, if your class points went negative, you can’t make repairs until you’ve reached the necessary class points for the considered ship template. And as, for a destroyed ship, you lose almost as much class points as you gain in a mission, this should be pretty repulsive.

Okay, but what about the pirates I was mentioning a few paragraphs earlier?
These are pure bots controlled by an AI. They’re here because you can’t expect to go only full PvP outside an arena. This also goes for a scripted mission. If you “subscribed” for a specific mission and out of the 10 required ships, only 5 including you are present, then there should be an AI accompanying you. Of course, people can always hop into the mission in the middle, but they’ll get less rewards as they were not in the group from the beginning.

So far, the only question I can’t really answer is: how fun all of this is? Truly speaking, I don’t know. If you can have at least two slots for a chosen server, then I guess you can always navigate between some pew-pew and something more relaxing like exploring or mining.

Anyway, if you’ve come reading through all the post this far … you’re good, this is some heavy monster :slight_smile:

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I guess I am a bit confused, is this proposal for Battlescape gameplay? These suggestions sound more for an MMO that what we’re planning to build for Battlescape.

Roles are good, but it’s important to create gameplay that inspires players to choose roles on their own. That way, the roles are organic and can change over time; the players use their skills to define roles that match their goals. If they all pick a role that involves a scorched earth policy despite your intention to have explorers, healers and other such things, then it says that the gameplay wasn’t properly designed to inspire those roles.

I also happen to like the idea of ‘class points’ for progression systems, but along the lines of improving what you use. If you use sensors, then you get sensor points. If you use guns, then you get gun points. If you use engines, then you get engine points. Mining. Research. Etc. So instead of getting loot from blowing up stuff and spending it on anything you like, you just play the game and get currency specific to the gameplay that you experience. Ideally, you’re experiencing those things because there’s some overarching reason to do so beyond “I want better stuff”.

I’m not a big fan of progression systems, however, because they invariably result in grinds.

“Dude, you need better sensors for your combat frigate.”
“How do I do that?”
“Go scan a bunch of stuff. Lists of stuff to scan are on the forums. Search on ‘fast sensor leveling’.”


This retains the core problem that I have with most all piracy systems: players work to concentrate wealth in their ship’s hold, but the guy with guns can take it away. So no matter what set of skills went into obtaining that wealth, a guy who only knows how to shoot can take it away. That just isn’t reasonable in my book. It’s like saying that the guys who are good with spreadsheets should win combat. Oh wait…

Something that I’ve begun to realize about the systems that I propose is that they usually require spatial skills. That happens to be something that I’m good at. I wonder if all designers tend towards systems that favor their skill set. If I’m good at organizing information, do I tend to prefer systems that have lots of data to manage? If I’m good at organizing people, do I tend to prefer systems that bring lots of people together? If I enjoy puzzles, do I create complex systems that have to be figured out? And so on.

Just a random thought.

True, @INovaeGene, the tag is probably misleading: it is more MMO orientated than for Battlescape. Still, it was more of a general thoughts post, if there’s anything that can inspire Battlescape, then by all means, I’d be happy to have helped :smile:

I don’t think one should stroll far away from the initial role. To give an RPG example, if I choose warrior as a starter, then maybe I could be able to go on a “warmage”. But the core identity is still warrior, and later on I shouldn’t be able to just fully respecialize into rogue.
That is the initial idea behind the “ship templates”: not only do they improve the ship, they also let you have specialization. But the ship’s frame, and also its global purpose, remains the same.

This is why I kept something more universal. You get the points for doing stuff you like inside your role and you define your specialization however you like. You’ll upgrade your sensors through a template because it happens you really want to scout. If a few weeks later you’re tired of scouting, you can always replace that template by another one.
Without grinding this new stuff by specific actions only related to that stuff :smile:

Hmmm …
This reminds me of a nice comic from a great french cartoonist. It so happens he has translated most of his cartoons’ blog in english. Here’s the one I’m thinking of when reading your questions.

Anyway, your thoughts are welcome :wink:

In games of progression, I agree. But in a sandbox, players need to be able to create their own roles. Sure, provide the gear to allow them to go with tank and healer and all that sort of thing, but also let the players mix and match gear. Not to become tank/healers, but to become something completely unexpected. The sensor ship that pumps out so much energy that it can damage other ship’s sensors if it does just the right things. Just unusual stuff like that.

Once you’ve got that going, keep introducing new gear that subtly or dramatically alters the balance of power. Cut off the supply of and support for long range jump drives. In time, long range jumps cease to be a thing, forcing everyone to adapt to shorter jumps. Some roles are obsolete, some are altered, new roles are created.

Make sure that players understand that such things happen and that they need to stay on their toes. Presenting hints that something is coming would certainly help with player expectations.

This sort of thing is vastly more interesting to me as a form of entertainment than following a developer-designed script of progression. But such a game must be devoid of clear path to a few obvious goals. If all players see those few paths to those few goals, then they will be inspired to chase them down, and you’re back to players min-maxing to achieve those goals as quickly as possible.

If I was running such a game, I’d make a clear statement to players that if I see too many players converging on the same pattern of gameplay, I’m going to adjust gameplay to break that pattern. Otherwise, folks get into a rut of a grind.

That, in turn, reminded me of Good Will Hunting.